Posts tagged ‘college life’

Raspberry Honey Tapioca

Raspberry Honey Tapioca Pudding

I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since the 9th grade. My reasons then were few but passionate – I wanted to use the written word to uncover the truth, to change my community, to travel and inspire and burgeon forth with knowledge. My sense of direction grew stronger with every internship and workshop. When I left Seattle for Boston, I left as a journalism major.

But ever since I got here, I’ve been tainted with doubt. I ignored it for months and tried to enjoy my journalism classes. They sent me into the city for man-on-the-street interviews and to city hall for public records. I learned how to use cameras and microphones to record audio and video packages. And though I’ve loved hearing my voice on the radio and coming up with stories, I don’t like where I’m headed.

The reality I have to face is this – I don’t like hard news. Sifting through police reports, breaking essential details into short graphs, learning the broadcast aspects of journalism necessary to survive today’s newsroom… This isn’t for me. But when you’ve been so sure of your path for so long, the thought of starting fresh terrifies.

Raspberry Honey

I scheduled a visit with my academic advisor. We looked over my schedule for next semester (which was limited, since I’m studying abroad in Europe in the fall). I was clearly less than enthused about the journalism class I’d be taking, the next step on the journalism major ladder. He folded his fingers into a triangle on his desk, leaned forward and asked, “What do you want to do with your life?”

“Well, I want to write,” I said. “I’m interested in freelancing for different magazines, maybe writing a column.”

“Yes,” he interrupted, tapping his pencil on the course catalogue. “Half the kids here want to write. But think about it, seriously. What are you really passionate about?

That’s when I realized I already knew. Maybe I’d known all along. I flipped to a junior-level class – Creative Writing: Nonfiction Travel Writing – and declared, “This is where I want to be.”

He leaned back in his chair and shrugged his shoulders, like, that’s that. “Then maybe you shouldn’t be a journalism major, if you’d like to get into that class. You know, the only one you seem genuinely excited about.” He handed me a major change form and said, “Mull it over.”

I walked out of his office shaking. Daunted by the work that changing my major conjured. Scared of making the wrong choice. I headed to the mailroom to pick up a package that had arrived for me, trusting my feet to take me there while my head spun.

Raspberry Honey Tapioca Pudding

I don’t frequently receive packages, and at that moment I was unprepared for the lovely surprise that was Heidi Swanson’s (of 101 cookbooks fame) new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. I tore off the paper as the elevator lurched, and I was already flipping through when I got to my floor.

The cookbook was a relief. This was familiar, well-traveled territory, a path I’d always know was right for me. This cookbook was like breathing.

I worked my way through the sections. Every page offered breathtaking photos, Heidi’s beautiful writing, and recipes that made me want to be a more wholesome eater. I was starved for cookbooks, having left my entire collection at home. This one satisfied a hunger sorely missed. The sides of the book became frilly with scraps of paper, marking the recipes I wanted to try first. I couldn’t bear to dog-ear the corners.

I settled on Heidi’s Honey & Rose Water Tapioca, and walked to the store.

Raspberries

I made the pudding using the stovetop in the common room. I left out the rosewater and used raspberry blossom honey, but otherwise stuck true to Heidi’s recipe. Everything about this all-milk, honey-sweetened dessert comforted. While the common room emptied bags of Fritos and put on a movie, I stirred constellations of tapioca pearls. The custard slowly thickened and the pearls grew plump and opaque. Sometimes people asked what I was making, and the floor taste-tested with plastic spoons.

As the dessert set, inspiration came. I grabbed a notebook and scrawled down the phrases that came to mind – “raspberry honey marries with a flurry of lemon zest,” “bright and wholesome,” “creamy pudding studded with chewy tapioca beads.” Writing and food are inseparable, and good food puts my pencil to paper.

I smoothed the pudding into some Tupperware and looked again at the notebook. Maybe my path has always been this obvious… It just took a little trial and error to figure it out.

Raspberry Honey Tapioca Pudding

The paperwork is official. When people ask what I’m studying, I don’t hesitate to say, “I’m a writing major with a minor in journalism.” And I swell with joy every time.

Maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll try to design my own major. I’ll combine elements of print journalism with writing and publishing and some solid English literature. It isn’t completely clear yet, but I have faith in myself. For now, I’ll enjoy my summer, spend a sleepless semester in Europe, and continue to write and eat.

[PS: I also have some incredible news to share! I've been invited to speak at BlogHer Food '11, on a panel with my Kitchen Generation co-founders about food blogging and the younger crowd. I'll finally get to meet my fellow teen food bloggers in person after a year of Skype chats. I'll get to meet scores of food bloggers I truly admire. I almost can't contain myself.

The conference is May 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and there's still time to register. Maybe I'll see you there?]

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April 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm 100 comments

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate!)

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

Inspiration has hit me again. Pretty hard. And this time I think it’ll be harder to shake.

I had some free time between classes, so I went to the store. For the first time in my life, I bought myself basic ingredients, starting with absolutely nothing. I tried to balance quality and price as I grabbed flour, sugar (white, brown, and powdered), vanilla, salt, butter, cream, and eggs… At the very last minute, standing in the check out line, I ran back to get baking powder and soda. Almost forgot.

When the total came up and I took out my wallet, I mentally calculated how many tables I’d have to wait to gain it back. Since when was baking such an expensive hobby?

This being-an-adult, shopping-for-your-own-groceries thing is tough. But I smiled the whole ride home.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

As the week went on, the anticipation grew. I think this is what I discovered. When the only times you bake are for dinner with the neighbors, birthdays, holidays and paid orders, something is wrong. When you’re baking just because? Because you want to, because it’s Thursday, because there are four pounds of sugar under your bed? These reasons are happiness-generators, like fresh batches of Play Doh and abandoned fields of dandelions.

Faced with the freedom of no guidelines, I couldn’t decide whether to go crunchy or chewy, warm or chilled, chocolate-glazed or baked with fruit. On Saturday I was sure I would make a citrusy pound cake. Sunday I’d switched to some kind of breakfast scone, easy to share with the common room… By Tuesday I found myself wanting a few secret pots de creme in my mini-fridge, a midnight snack just for me.

Then, considering the mediocre fruit selection in the dining hall at lunchtime, it hit me. I took three ripe pears and looked up a recipe for clafouti. I packed all the ingredients and tools, plus a book and my camera. I lugged the ridiculously heavy bag down the street to the dorm building that has kitchens.

Peanut Butter

The kitchen was a bit of a letdown. There was no soap by the sink for dishes. The windows were blocked by buildings and didn’t let in any natural light, so no photographs. But I figured out how to work the oven, mixed the clafouti batter as best I could, and hoped for success. I sat down to read and discovered that, somewhere in Chapter 2, I could smell sugar.

I pulled the puffed, golden-brown custard out of the oven and experienced a more real satisfaction than I could have possibly imagined. My bones felt solid, my lungs felt full, and would you believe it, I felt starved. I washed the dishes and repacked the bag in a dream, and as I turned to leave, I grabbed the still-hot pan without thinking. My hand automatically opened and the clafouti splattered like vanilla-infused ink. The metal pan clattered against the linoleum and I thought it would never stop ringing in my ears and in the corners of the empty kitchen.

Empty-handed, without photos or a taste. Bitterness started to settle like steeping tea.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

But then, in spite of myself, I laughed. No regrets, no tears. Because, let’s be real, it was a pretty stupid move on my part, but it didn’t take away any of the pleasure I got from the baking process. Blog post or not, for one afternoon, I felt unfiltered elation. Maybe there was a lesson in the unsalvageable clafouti – the joy comes from the process, not from being recognized as the “baking blogger” or from eating a lot of cream.

Instead, I’m sharing these Peanut Butter Pretzel bites with you. They’re easy enough to make from a dorm. Creamy peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla combine in a rich and addictive filling. Sandwiched between two crisp, salty pretzels and dunked in bittersweet chocolate, you end up with an incredible party snack that vanishes fast.

No mixer required. No fiddling with foreign ovens. You can even melt the chocolate in the microwave (which I did.) The result is a delicious, one bite contradiction of creamy and crunchy, sweet and salty, peanutty and chocolatey.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

I knew right away they wouldn’t survive the weekend, but that’s okay. I’ve still got 3 ½ pounds of sugar under my bed. That’s reason enough for me.

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March 25, 2011 at 12:07 am 128 comments

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

This morning I woke up with an inexplicable craving for bubble tea.

Instead I ate a bowl of cereal and made it to class barely on time. I took notes, asked questions, and when I walked out the door, it felt like October instead of mid February. The temperature flirted with the low 40s. Cause for celebration! I wore a flowery skirt, smiled at strangers, and I still wanted bubble tea.

I didn’t even drop off my bags. I walked straight from the classroom, down the street into Boston’s Chinatown, knowing exactly what I was looking for.

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

A few weeks before Halloween, when I was still in the process of making friends in a big new world, my floormate M- and I decided to get lunch. We’re both half Asian, and we both missed Chinese food, so we headed into Chinatown together.

Chinatown is squeezed between Downtown Crossing and the South End. It’s small, but dense, stuffed with grocery stores, jewelry shops, and narrow brick alleyways. Heaps of snow stay frozen solid in the shadows of tall buildings pressed close together. Cars honk. The edges of sidewalks are congested with scraps of packaging and cigarette butts, and you can’t see what’s around the corner until you actually turn, but what can I say? I love Chinatowns. They’ve got a character you can’t quite capture anywhere else.

M- and I didn’t know where to get good food, so we explored until we found a tiny but promising café. There were no tables, just a laminated menu taped to a counter and a long line. We ordered rice, barbeque chicken, pork buns, and why not – two coconut bubble teas.

Flaked Coconut

The food was good, but the bubble tea was the star of the meal. Thick and fragrant, it used coconut cream, not powder. Every sip tasted tropical and real – like a spoon scraped against the white walls of a split coconut – as opposed to the suntan lotion taste of most imitations. It was good enough to remember months later.

I could recall the bubble tea fairly well, but I had no idea how to get there. I wandered into Chinatown and made lefts and rights at random, ending up on crooked side streets lined with shops like uneven teeth. Just when I was about to give up, I recognized the sign, innocently tucked between a row of restaurant windows. I ran through a puddle of melted snow and across the empty street, yanked open the door and bought myself a bubble tea.

It didn’t even survive the trip home. Not a big surprise, considering I got lost on the way back. I’ll have to adventure into Chinatown walkabout-style every time I want to rediscover this bubble tea, but I think it’s a worthwhile experience.

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Back when I worked at Seastar Restaurant, with chefs all around me baking chocolate molten cakes and slow-cooking cedar plank salmon, coconut was my favorite smell in the entire restaurant. We’d spread flakes of coconut on a baking sheet and toast them, later to be sprinkled over the white chocolate coconut cream pie. After mere minutes in the oven, the most seductive smell wafted down the line. No matter what I was doing, I’d start to work in a daze, dreaming of paradise.

I can’t understand when people say they hate coconut. I can, however, see why some people don’t like coconut macaroons. Too often they’re over-the-top sweet and gluey.

But when you find a good macaroon you get something special. The cookie is light and chewy, with toasty crisp edges. The coconut flavor is pure, not masked by sugar. A dip in dark chocolate adds richness without cloying sweetness. It’s dynamite. How could you not want more?

[Writing, baking, photographing. Blogging. Waitressing. Radio-ing. A second job with the admissions office at my school. Homework. ...Sleep? I don't know how I managed to make second semester even busier than my first, but I'm really trying. Thanks for sticking through with me!]

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February 18, 2011 at 5:23 am 72 comments

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Even as a little kid, I liked flying home. Not the chaos of the security checks, the trip itself, or even the weary drive back to our house. But I love that first step outside SeaTac Airport. When I exit the airport after hours of flight and days of vacation – I breathe in the Pacific Northwest air as slowly and deliberately as I can. No matter where I’ve been or how much I enjoyed myself, that first breath always tastes like the freshest, cleanest air I’ve ever known.

My flight back from Boston was forgettable. I took a taxi from my school at 5 am, spent a two hour layover in Chicago, and finally made it to Seattle after 12 hours. As tired as I was, I anticipated the step outside. I usually get this incredible emotion, a mix of contentment and familiarity, a rush of glassy lakes and painted mountains. I dragged my suitcase outside with me, looked out at the flat grey sky, and inhaled.

But… nothing.

Instead, there was something else – a strange feeling I couldn’t place. It sat in my chest, somewhat uncomfortably, even as the Toyota pulled up and I saw my mother for the first time since summer.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

When we came home, the first thing I did was walk to the kitchen. I expected fireworks to burst in my heart, rainbows to pump through my veins and surge out my fingertips when we reunited. Nothing had changed in my absence. The walls were the same marigold yellow, the same checkerboard tile covered the floor, but somehow it wasn’t the kitchen I’d remembered and missed. It looked cramped and dim, hardly big enough for three people and two dogs.

I wheeled my bag into my old room, pulled out my Boston sweatshirt, and fell asleep without unpacking.

Over the next few days, I saw Grandma and my parents, which made me feel like daybreak inside. Almost at once I caught up with old friends, a both strange and easy experience. But during the afternoon, with no classes or job to distract me, I got bored. If I wasn’t asleep, I suffered from bad headaches all day. And that uncomfortable feeling lodged in my chest hadn’t vanished.

By now, I’ve figured out what the feeling is… homesickness. I know it’s ridiculous to feel homesick for school when I’m home. I also see how pointless it is to wallow in sadness, pining for Boston, while I have three weeks left in this beautiful place. If I don’t appreciate the rain, family, and happiness I can only find in Seattle, I’ll regret it a month later when I’m gone.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

The solution for the headaches didn’t come in Tylenol. It’s a healthy combination of Mom’s noodle soup, Dad’s sweater hugs, damp dog paws all over my bed and the tug of a camera strap. It’s a sifting of flour on my apron and cinnamon dust on my palms. It’s not exactly a bitter pill to swallow.

One of the best things about being home is the food. Predictable, but it isn’t even the food as much as the ingredients. There are the luxury items I haven’t bought in college – all natural creamy peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up before spreading. Soft handmade tortillas, brown rice, even almonds! It’s a joyful thing to appreciate a quick handful of almonds before dinner. And produce! Even in winter, at home I’m eating crisp spinach and sweet Asian pears.

The school menu never changes, and most of the fruit comes out of a can, soaked in sugary syrup. At home, every flavor is amplified. The grapefruit I sliced with my first breakfast back was so clean and fresh, the sharpest thing I’d tasted in ages. After I devoured it, I thought about citrus the rest of the day. I’ve been drinking grapefruits the way parched survivors reach for water.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Reacquainting myself with our kitchen is like slipping into a familiar song. Every measuring cup is where I know it’ll be. Pans still clink and clatter in our cupboard, and that old bag of shredded coconut still has some life in it. The microplane zester, still my favorite tool in the room, is just as sharp as ever. The result? Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting.

Even baked into a cupcake, the grapefruit manages to refresh. It’s light and zingy, pairing beautifully with the sweetness of coconut. And the frosting? I wanted something mellow and subtle, and the green tea powder I bought from Pike Place Market over the summer was just the right touch.

When I opened that oven door, the warm air that surged up was so fragrant and sweet. I was caught off guard by how hot it was, and how good it felt against the oven mitt. Later, in bed, I rolled over and pressed my nose into my hair – it smelled like sugar. It was one of the best smells I’d almost forgotten.

I think I’ll bake again tomorrow.

[It's good to be back. See you in 2011!]

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December 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm 73 comments


Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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